First Thoughts on the Agreement Between the Hellenic Republic and the so-called “Second Party”
i. The so-called “naming dispute” between the Hellenic Republic and the Republic of Macedonia has to be understood in the context of the Hellenic Republic’s brutal and consistent persecution of its minority groups from its inception, but particularly since the 1913 Treaty of Bucharest and its fascist dictatorships in the 20th century.
I do not believe that a comprehensive history of these persecutions is currently available in English, although it is my intention to soon create one, and the information is available online in fragments if one wishes to seek it out.
The aims of the Hellenic Republic in persecuting its Macedonian minority have been economic and cultural. Central to the ideology of Hellenism is a renunciation of all ethnic identifications aside from the so-called “Hellenic” identity; neither the Greek-speaking peoples nor the other peoples who gradually have assimilated into this Hellenic identity called themselves Hellenes at any prior point in history.
This should be understood as distinct from a simple national identity. If someone moves to the UK or India, they may come to consider themselves as British or Indian, and be considered by their neighbours to be the same. But neither British nor Indian, are ethnic identities. The UK has Englishmen, Scotsmen, Irishmen, and Welshmen among other groups. India has an astounding plurality of groups. But in order to be British one need not be English. In order to be Indian one need not be Gujrati. But in order to become a Hellene, one must become a Hellene.
This should not therefore be understood as an inclusive national identity, but rather an exclusive one; the Hellenic Republic is an ethno-state, and contingent on its national identity is acceptance of an ethnic identity. The Greek word “ethnos”, as in “ethniki vivliothiki”, or “national library”, means both ethnicity and state; “ethno-state” is a better direct translation than either “ethnicity” or “state”. This is the foundational Hellenist ideology of the Republic.
After the population exchange with Turkey in 1923, Greece was faced with two issues.
- The Macedonian minority were not Greeks. Like many other peoples of Greece and into the present day, the Macedonians did not speak “Hellenic” of any variety. They did not consider themselves to be Hellenes. They were not Hellenes. 10 years after the Treaty of Bucharest in which Greece annexed its current state of Macedonia, this had not changed much.
- Greece was faced with a massive refugee population from Turkey which needed to be resettled somewhere.
The solution pursued both by vigilante groups and by the state itself was simple and reminiscent of other regimes throughout history such as the United States at the time of the Indian Removal Act. It simply murdered and displaced the Macedonians. Fascist statecraft turned the refugees from Turkey and the Macedonians against one another; the refugees were settled in Aegean Macedonia while both laws and vigilante actions privileged Greeks in things like land ownership over the Macedonians and other minorities. Many of these laws remain in effect. Reports are not hard to come by of Greek atrocities against Macedonians in Aegean Macedonia around this time. Villages were slaughtered and razed, the names of places were changed so as to not reflect any kind of Macedonian origin, and the surviving Macedonians were forced to change their names and adopt the Greek language and were scattered throughout the borders of Greece. Some were exiled to islands; after the Civil War, many of them, who had quite rightly fought with the Communists, were stripped of citizenship which has not to this day been restored.
It should be noted that the Hellenic Republic recognises a distinct legal category “of Greek origin” which confers legal privileges over other citizens. OGO Hellenic communists eventually had their citizenships restored, and Macedonian communists did not.
Greece denies that it has any ethnic minorities and refuses to conduct a census. So the root of this conflict is not ancient history and has nothing to do with ancient history. It is rooted in the history of the past century.
ii. The agreement is very careful not to acknowledge that there are Macedonians living in Greece.
At the same time, it demands that Macedonia’s Constitution not be a basis for interference with the Hellenic Republic’s flagrant violation of their rights. The agreement reads, Article 4, Paragraph 3:
Each Party hereby commits and solemnly declares that nothing in its Constitution as it is in force or will be amended in the future can or should be interpreted as constituting or will ever constitute the basis for interference with the internal affairs of the other Party in any form and for any reason, including for the protection of the status and rights of any persons that are not its citizens.
The intereference in another country’s internal affairs for the protection of human rights is pretty roundly considered to be a normal thing which a country might do. Sometimes this is legitimate and sometimes it isn’t, but the fact in the world as it actually exists is that countries do it and this is normal and ordinary. Within the context of the Balkans in particular, it must be understood that it is normal and expected that the horrifying constellation of ethno-states which constitute its fragile political fabric virtually all work to safeguard the rights of their diaspora populations from encroachment by hostile rival ethno-regimes. The Roma are remarkable as an ethnic minority population who do not have a state which can interfere to safeguard their rights, and so they remain some of the most marginalised and downtrodden people in the world, with a life expectancy of 10–15 years less than their surrounding communities. This is comparable to the Scheduled Castes of India, whose life expectancy is 14.6 years less than the upper castes.
The agreement contains nothing to do with the Hellenic Republic’s treatment of Macedonians or any other minority group. It does not stipulate the recognition of minority groups. It does not stipulate social uplift programs or economic uplift programs. At best they can expect succour in the forms of trickle-down programs, which I will touch on later. This agreement puts Greece’s Macedonians in a similar danger to the Roma. As a Balkan precedent it is extremely dangerous and may work to further the ongoing ethnic balkanisation of the region and the destruction of its (still quite strong, all things considered) syncretic character. I do not believe that this syncretic character can or will be destroyed. But I believe that the human cost will be almost greater; leading to new forms of economic and social vulnerability the likes of which none wish to endure or even exist contemporarily to.
Article 7 is particularly worrying because it is an agreement by politicians regarding issues of historical dispute. For instance, Paragraph 4 reads:
The Parties note that the official language and other attributes of the Second Party are not related to the ancient Hellenic civilization, history, culture and heritage of the northern region of the First Party.
This is a terrifying provision that makes both the Hellenic Republic and the so-called “North Macedonia” internationally bound to be historically revisionist states. As we have established, the “northern region of the First Party”, ie the Greek state of Macedonia, has a heritage quite related to Macedonia, in that it was inhabited by Macedonians prior to the Treaty of Bucharest and some Macedonians continue to live there, although we have no way of knowing how many because the Hellenic Republic does not conduct a census. It is like the United States signing a treaty with the Chickasaw that the Chickasaw never lived in the Southeast at all and there not only was no Trail of Tears, but there could have been no Trail of Tears.
Furthermore, Article 7 contradicts with Article 8, Paragraph 5, which reads:
Within one month of the signing of this Agreement, the Parties shall establish […] a Joint Inter-Disciplinary Committee of Experts on historic, archaeological, and educational matters, to consider the objective, scientific interpretation of historical events based on authentic, evidence-based and scientifically sound historical sources and archaeological findings. The Committee’s work shall be supervised by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the Parties in cooperation with other competent national authorities. It shall consider, and, if it deems appropriate, revise any school textbooks and school auxiliary material such as maps, historical atlases, teaching guides, in use in each of the Parties, in accordance with the principles and aims of UNESCO and the Council of Europe. To that effect, the Committee shall set specific timetables so as to ensure that in each of the Parties that no school textbooks or school auxiliary material in use the year after the signing of this Agreement contains any irredentist/revisionist references.
It is absurd to believe that the Hellenic Republic will eliminate historical revisionism from its school textbooks. It is a country founded top to bottom on historical revisionism from its very name downwards and from its founding ideology upwards. This agreement is in a paradoxical position of demanding nothing of the Hellenic Republic, yet still putting it in a position where the expectation that it will abide by the agreement is flatly ridiculous and no self-respecting adult with any familiarity with the issues in question can possibly claim to be realistic. If the Hellenic Republic wishes to teach its true history, this is a welcome move. But this very agreement contains revisionist provisions. What is to happen when (not if, but when) this impartial third party contradicts with Article 7? History is not something that can be agreed to in an international agreement. History consists of facts and interpretations of facts based on objective methodology. Historians disagree among each other regarding even basic facts. Certainly no nationalist history is correct, not Macedonian and Certainly not Greek. But this attempt to build a consensus can have no other objective but to cover up Greek crimes.
iii. I am an anti-nationalist, an anti-revisionist, and an anti-irredentist. My contention is that borders should remain where they are and be salted and scorched where they stand. One might then ask why I have opposed the provisions in this agreement forbidding any historical revisionism and irredentism.
The fact is that Macedonia has no irredentist designs on Greece. The Macedonian Army has 8,000 soldiers, with an additional 16,000 in reserve. The Macedonian Air Force boasts a total of 18 aircraft and 21 Air Defence Platforms. To my knowledge, Macedonia has at no point in its history made any efforts whatsoever to militarise much more than this, and its entire military history is littered with incidents like its contribution of two entire soldiers to the US invasion of Afghanistan, with its largest role in any international conflict to date being 490 soldiers’ participation in Operation Iraqi Freedom over the course of 11 rotations.
Greece is a full member of NATO which estimates its army’s potential wartime strength at 253,500 soldiers — over five hundred times the number of Macedonians who participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Macedonian Air Force’s claim of 18 aircraft is bested not only by the Hellenic Air Force but in fact by the Hellenic Navy, which boasts 21 aircraft. The Air Force operates over 440 aircraft, 223 of which are modern combat aircraft.
So how any irredentist designs of “The Second Party” could amount to a war or a shift in borders is anyone’s guess. What the Hellenic Republic means when it says irredentism must be something quite different to reality, and it is an open-ended term which can mean any number of things, including but not limited to interference in the Hellenic Republic’s “internal affairs” for the sake of protection of human rights of the Macedonian minority. Article 1, Paragraph 12 calls for amendments to Article 49 of Macedonia’s constitution, which reads:
The Republic cares for the status and rights of those persons belonging to the Macedonian people in neighbouring countries, as well as Macedonian expatriates, assists their cultural development and promotes links with them. The Republic cares for the cultural, economic and social rights of the citizens of the Republic abroad.
And other parts of the agreement call for Macedonian abandonment of the Macedonian minority of Greece. In my view this is clearly what the Hellenic Republic means by “irredentism”.
I am no fan of the Preamble of Macedonia’s constitution. I do not support the notion of a “national state” of any “people”. But to selectively apply this standard to Macedonia without calling for a greater regional change is hypocrisy which leaves Macedonians outside of the borders of the Republic in a vulnerable, degraded social status. Any ethno-state must be destroyed for global peace. But this can only happen after other provisions have been taken for the protection of minority groups. This agreement places no obligations on Greece for the protection of its minority groups. It is merely the removal of a safety net of one minority group, it is not an anti-nationalist or anti-irredentist measure but a settling of a dispute of custody between Greek and Macedonian nationalisms.
iv. Much of the agreement has to do with a strengthening of national borders.
It is not a weakening of national borders whatsoever. Provisions of part 2 are quite worrying in this regard. Article 16, Paragraph 1 says:
The Parties shall cooperate closely in the fight against organised and trans-border crime, terrorism, economic crimes, having regard in particular to crime related to the illicit trafficking and/or exploitation of human beings
Unfortunately, trafficking laws have been used in Greece to mean transportation of people over borders for any reason. In January 2016, three Spanish and two Danish volunteers from the organisation PROEM-AID were arrested on human trafficking charges for attempting to rescue asylum seekers off the coast of Lesvos. It is already the case that foreigners attempting to cross borders from Greece to Macedonia face violence both from the state and from parastate fascist groups. Increased cooperation between Greece and Macedonia means further repression of migration into Europe.
v. The economic provisions of this agreement are if anything a subject of greater concern.
They reduce the so-called “North Macedonia” to being little more than a fascist puppet state for Greek capital. All of these provisions should be read bearing in mind that much of Macedonia’s capital is already owned by members of the Greek bourgeois class.
Article 14 pertains mostly to this. Quoth Paragraph 2:
The Parties shall encourage mutual investments and shall take all necessary measures for their effective protection, including measures against excessive bureaucracy and for overcoming institutional, administrative, and tax barriers.
And Paragraph 3:
The Parties shall refrain from imposing any impediment to the movement of people or goods between their territories
The Parties shall promote, extend, and improve cooperative synergies in the areas of infrastructures and transport as well as on a reciprocal basis, road, rail, maritime, and air transport and communication connections […] They shall also facilitate the transit between them of goods, cargos, and merchandises via the infrastructures, including ports and airports, in the territory of each Party.
What is wrong with this? Well, the same thing that is always wrong with open border trade agreements. The fact is that Greece simply has much more capital than Macedonia does. This gives Greece far disproportionate bargaining power, as demonstrated by this very agreement which is infinitely favourable to the Hellenic Republic and so degrading to the “Second Party” that the latter is not even referred to by name. As the infrastructure that was built in India during the British Raj was largely dedicated to facilitating transfer of capital from India to Britain, this infrastructure has the potential to facilitate the mass transfer of capital from Macedonia to Greece, free of things like tariffs and regulations. What’s more, these agreements are subject to constant revision. It can be expected that Greece will remain by far the more powerful party in all such negotiations. So even any provisions which may be adopted in them for the protection of Macedonia are subject to change.
Article 9, Paragraph 1:
The Parties agree that their strategic cooperation shall extend into all sectors […] All these sectors should be incorporated into a comprehensive Action Plan during the course of the development of bilateral relations.
The Action Plan shall be enriched and developed continuously.
Taken together, these two paragraphs leave no doubt that the upper hand in all negotiations is to be the Hellenic Republic’s. One day it will prefer one set of rules, and the next it will prefer another. Macedonia is to become the playground of a Greek bourgeoisie which has been disenfranchised in Greece by successive bailout stipulations. To borrow from Maoist terminology, this agreement favours the Greek imperial bourgeoisie over the Macedonian national bourgeoisie.
vi. There is one aspect in which the agreement can be said to weaken borders in any way.
That is that it contains multiple stipulations to promote cultural exchanges between Greeks and “Citizens of North Macedonia” through promotion of tourism, etc, and modernisation of the border, as stipulated in Article 14, Paragraph 6.
The Parties shall seek to improve and modernize existing border crossings as required by the flow of traffic and to construct new border crossings with a view to boosting touristic and commercial flows between them.
Other aspects of the agreement which one may consider signs of progress, such as Article 14, Paragraph 7, which calls for the development of cross-border strategies for evironmental protection. But it is mum about how these strategies are to be developed, or by when, or what goals they are to work towards. When compared to the section on revising history textbooks, there are none of the provisions which make a practiceable agreement.
This so-called “agreement” is an orwellian clean chit to Greece for its atrocities, and must be opposed with all militancy. Whether or not they are abandoned by “the Second Party”, the Macedonians in Greece must work with other minority groups within Greece and throughout the Balkans to hold the Hellenic Republic and all other Balkan states accountable, agitating for the construction of a new form of democratic power in the Balkans which can supplant the current horrifying status quo of apartheid states at a constant cold war, not for the sake of supporting one nationalism over another but for the sake of peace. The Greek radicals must not remain aloof from this process. They must expand their understanding of the apartheid system of Balkan citizenship and what it has done until such a day when Balkanis speak of nationality and citizenship like the historical shame it is.
Feel free to support me via Ko-fi or Patreon. My ongoing life’s work is to study and teach and affect social reform in India and the Balkans, and to that end I am focused on several ambitious projects which leave me no time for employment in the traditional sense. Therefore, I rely on donations to maintain my modest lifestyle. I live in suburban Bombay in a one-bedroom apartment with two other people.
This article is also available in Macedonian thanks to the translators at svest.mk.